October 25, 2012

Witness describes night of Tabor College football player’s killing

When Chris Garcia heard the screaming voices outside his duplex just before 3 a.m. Sept. 16, he hopped out of bed and quickly went to the living room, where his young son and his nieces slept.

When Chris Garcia heard the screaming voices outside his duplex just before 3 a.m. Sept. 16, he hopped out of bed and quickly went to the living room, where his young son and his nieces slept.

The screaming hadn’t awakened them, which didn’t surprise Garcia. The children had spent all day Saturday at the State Fair and were worn out.

Garcia peeked through the blinds in his front window and saw a group of six to eight men standing and talking, no more than 20 yards from where he stood in his living room.

He recognized one of them as his old roommate, a McPherson College football player who lived next door on the other side of the duplex.

It’s a party, Garcia thought. No big deal. So he went back to bed.

Not much later, he heard glass shattering, followed by more screaming.

Garcia darted back to the living room. He was about to witness a killing that would rock two small Kansas colleges.

An argument, a fight

From his vantage point in the living room, Garcia said he could see Tabor College linebacker Ilai Eteaki arguing with several men in the front yard. Garcia quickly discerned the argument was because the men believed Eteaki had thrown a “For Sale” sign through the front window on the other side of the duplex.

“One of the guys was getting in (Eteaki’s) face asking him, ‘Why’d you do it? Why’d you throw it?’ and then he went and got my old roommate, so he came out and … he kind of squashed the beef and then another guy came out and (Eteaki) got all fired back up again,” Garcia said.

“After that happens, after it gets fired back up again, it escalates.”

Eteaki wasn’t the only Tabor football player in McPherson that night.

As Eteaki argued over the broken window, Tabor defensive lineman Brandon Brown stood just feet away, with another group of men who were observing the altercation but didn’t appear to be involved.

Eteaki and Brown had made the 26-mile trip from Hillsboro to McPherson to attend the party. The two were teammates at Santa Ana (Calif.) College, a two-year school, before transferring to play football at Tabor.

“I didn’t hear a peep out of (Brown) the whole night,” Garcia said. “He wasn’t the one that was all fired up.”

It’s unclear who threw the first punch, but Eteaki and the man he was arguing with began to fight, Garcia said. Both threw several punches that missed before Eteaki ran down the street, toward the McPherson College campus, which is adjacent to the street the duplex is on.

“A few guys go after (Eteaki) and then he takes off down the street,” Garcia said. “That happens all right here in the front. So I’m kind of focused on that, but then when I focus back over here is when (Brown) got kind of cheap-shotted.”

Garcia said Brown, 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, was knocked out by a punch he didn’t see coming and then assaulted by two or three men.

“As soon as (Brown) went down I told my girlfriend, ‘Call the cops, now,’ ” Garcia said. “I went back to the window and they were just … hitting him and kicking him.

“(Brown) was a big guy, but they were big guys, too. You could tell they were all athletic guys. He was out when he got hit. At this point, (Brown) didn’t move the rest of the night.”

Garcia said he watched in horror as the beating continued. Just seconds before the police pulled up, at least three men ran through the front door next to Garcia’s at the duplex.

According to Garcia, the police officer immediately checked Brown’s vitals. According to a statement from authorities, Brown was unconscious and unresponsive.

An ambulance pulled up minutes later but, according to Garcia, didn’t leave with Brown for another 45 minutes as paramedics worked on him. With Brown still in the ambulance, police kicked in Garcia’s neighbor’s door.

Around the same time, Eteaki was arrested three blocks away for battery of a law-enforcement officer, according to police.

Brown died six days later at a Wichita hospital from injuries sustained in the beating.

His family flew his body back to his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., and buried him next to his grandmother in Monrovia, near Los Angeles. Brown, 26, left behind a 3-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter.

“If and when there’s a trial, we will come back to Kansas,” said Brown’s aunt, Gretchen Garner-Easter. “We are all still looking for answers.”

Tabor, in first place in the KCAC and ranked No. 22 in the latest NAIA Top 25, was scheduled to play at McPherson on Oct. 20. In light of the ongoing investigation, the game was canceled.

Investigation continues

Garcia said authorities talked to him and his girlfriend on Sunday evening, when the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and McPherson police brought them to the police station to give statements.

The KBI came back on Monday and showed Garcia a photo lineup of McPherson College students.

Two students have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. DeQuinte Flournoy and Alton Franklin, both 19 and both from Dallas, have a preliminary hearing scheduled for Monday in McPherson County Court.

The two were thrown off the football team at McPherson College in August by coach Pete Sterbick, who cited a violation of team rules.

McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty said the case against Eteaki for battery of a law enforcement officer is moving forward. McClarty wouldn’t say whether more arrests were coming in Brown’s death.

“Obviously, I can’t talk about that because it’s an ongoing investigation,” McClarty said.

Garcia said he isn’t sure whether it was two or three men beating Brown while he lay on the ground. He is listed as a potential witness in the case on a court document, along with four current members of McPherson’s football team, including his old roommate.

The other side of the duplex is now empty – the tenants were evicted, and the broken window replaced. There is also a new front door after police took the original door as evidence.

“If you watch the news at all, you know exactly what house it is,” Garcia said. “… We don’t want it to come back on our side, from people that don’t know they’re gone.”

Garcia, a McPherson native, says he can no longer play with his son in the front yard because people, even last week, were still driving by slowly and pointing at the duplex.

“I was born and raised here, you don’t have this stuff happen here,” Garcia said.

“Now, I make sure the top bolt on my door is locked. When I was growing up on Kansas Avenue, I left my keys in the ignition and didn’t worry about it.”

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